Looking for a Good Truck Driving School?

by Fran Bernard, on Oct 22, 2019 5:29:00 PM

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Things to look for when choosing a truck driving school
Different Types of Truck Driving Schools

The cost of Truck Driving Schools varies from $3,500. - $10,000. It isn’t as easy as taking the least expensive choice. The price can be determined by the length of the course. Some courses are as short as two weeks, while others may be five to eight weeks in length. It really is not like comparing apples to apples. There are so many different variables involved. Be careful and watch out for schools advertising “Free Training.” 

Pros and Cons

No matter what type of school you choose, they are all in the business of doing the same thing. They are here to help you learn how to drive a tractor-trailer. You are at the training school to get your CDL-A, and to be a safe entry-level CDL-A truck driver. Any of these schools can do that for you. There are differences in Private, Public, and Carrier Schools, mainly being in the price of the course, how it is paid, the length of the course, and where you choose to go to work 

Associations:

There are excellent Trucking Associations out there that truck driving schools are affiliated with from private, public, and carrier schools. This isn’t to say that there are schools out there that are great schools and not affiliated with any of the associations, but being involved with an association keeps the school up to date on policies and changes in the trucking industry. Below are a few listed.

Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI)
Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI) is the premier international certifying body dedicated to truck driver training course excellence. PTDI certifies truck driver training and finishing programs. They say that you can separate your program from the competition by having your program certified. They state that PTDI certified programs meet a higher standard, operate ethically and professionally and perform better. They also state that you can demonstrate to students, carriers and insurers you don’t just meet government regulations, you exceed them through your certification with PTDI. 

Commercial Vehicle Trucking Association (CVTA)
The Commercial Vehicle Training Association is the largest association of commercial truck driving schools. Working with Carrier and Associate members on critical industry issues, CVTA is promoting highway safety through quality training. 

National Association of Publicly Funded Truck Driving Schools (NAPFTDS) 
The National Association of Publicly Funded Truck Driving Schools (NAPFTDS) is an organization for the promotion of public education for the transportation industry. Through membership, educators can network with other truck driving schools across the country to provide the highest quality, most cost-effective, and up-to-date training available. 

Private Schools 
Private schools can tend to be a little more expensive; however, you do get more for your money. They have numerous ways to help you pay for your course. The obvious, cash, check, or credit card, but also many of the private schools are accredited and have financial aid to help you pay for your course. Also, several privately owned schools are VA approved for Veterans to use their VA benefits. You will find, as well, that they are approved through their state funding agencies for grants that will pay for your course if you qualify. Of course they tend to have financing opportunities too, offering various different ways to be able to help you pay for your schooling. 

The good schools have a tendency to be longer in training time, and usually a friendlier experience and atmosphere because you are a paying customer. They seem to have more patience and flexibility in their training and work with you until you graduate. Your experience may be a little less stressful because of their personal attention to you and your training.

Not to mention, the reason that you are attending truck driving school is to get a job when you are done training in the transportation industry. The private schools have countless job opportunities available to all their students. You are not expected to go with one carrier. Youcan choose where you want to go to work.

Public Schools 
Public Schools have the advantage of having Pell grants and student loans available to you if you qualify. This can be extremely helpful in paying for tuition. Depending on how long the course is, or if you are going for an associates degree in the transportation industry, will determine the length of time you will be spending on your training. This will be a major reason to pick a school. If you want to get in and get your training and go right to work, this might be longer than you want to participate in training. Your job search may be on your own. Some colleges train, graduate and expect you to find your own jobs. 

Carrier Schools
As far as the training at a Carrier School, it is very different in the fact that not everyone is going to make it through to the end of their training period. It is usually a shorter course length and a much faster pace than the private and public schools. They also tend to not have patience with students that don’t pick up on their training quickly. They will let you go if you are not staying on track. You can only go to work with the company that trained you. The many choices available will not be an option.

Checking out the Schools 

Phone call first impression: 

Knowledgeable
When you call a school, it doesn’t matter what type of school they are, private, public, or carrier, the person that talks to you about their program should be knowledgeable in the programs that they have to offer. 

Informative
You should call with questions that you have concerning your training. There are so many things to take into consideration before you choose the right school for you, such as: 

  1. Do you have full and part-time classes?
  2. What are the hours?
  3. How long are your classes?
  4. Do you help me get my permit?
  5. How much are the courses?
  6. Do you have financial aid or ways to help me pay for the course?
  7. Do I have to go with one particular company?
  8. Do you have recruiters come in to talk to the classes?
  9. Do you have job placement assistance?
  10. Is there tuition reimbursement?

You should expect them to be very responsive. They know all about their school and the training courses that they have to offer. They should give you, even more, to think about after asking your questions. 

Responsive
If they are a private, public, or carrier school, several things will be the same. The representative that you talk to from the school should give you the additional information that you might not have thought of concerning your training. 

First, they will introduce themselves to you and give you their title and a little background on how long they have been working with their school, and then:

  • They will need some information from you:
    1. Age
    2. General Health
    3. Driving Record
    4. Background History
  • You will have to be able to pass a Department of Transportation (DOT) physical
  • You will have to be able to pass a Department of Transportation (DOT) drug screen
  • They can call the CDL Help Line to make sure that you don’t have any issues on your license that would keep you from obtaining your CDL-A
  • They will explain about age requirements 
  • They should tell you about the differences in Intra-state and Inter-state driving
  • Explain to you what you can expect during your training course
  • Talk to you about all the different driving opportunities that will be available to you:
    1. Over the road
    2. Regional
    3. Local
  • Discuss their job placement assistance with you
  • Talk to you about all the carriers that offer tuition reimbursement

Kind
Obviously you will expect them to be kind. You are potentially a paying customer seeking their service and training. If they are rude or too busy to talk to you about your questions and concerns, you might want to think about checking with another school. 

Helpful 
You should expect them to be very helpful, forthcoming, and informative. At the end of your telephone conversation, they will quite possibly want to set up an appointment with you. This will be very helpful to you. Meeting the representative, instructors, and perhaps some students can go a long way in helping you to make a decision about the school.

Appointment:
Once you have made an appointment to go and meet with the school’s representative, you will be able to learn a lot more about the school you are researching.
Tour of the School
Upon making an appointment with the representative of the school you are researching, you will want to go on a tour of the school, either prior to or after your interview/meeting with the representative. They should suggest it to you, and most schools will because they want you to look around and ask any questions that you may have. You should have three parts to your training:
  • Classroom – your classroom situation should be clean, comfortable, and a pleasant atmosphere to be able to learn, watch videos, study, and take tests.
  • Range/Yard – your range/yard where you will be training with the trucks, should be private, away from the roads.  The range/yard would be a distinct area free from obstructions, and the instructors should be able to see all around the designated area at all times.
  • Road/Highway/Interstate – You as a student should be able to experience all types of different situations that you might encounter during your final road test during your road training time.
Meet the Instructors 
One of the benefits of taking a tour of the potential school is for you is having the opportunity of meeting your Instructors and students. This would be an excellent chance to ask questions of the Instructors, such as:
Does the school have diversity in instructors?
  • Are there any women instructors?
  • How much experience do their instructors have in driving?
  • How long have they been teaching?
  • Are they licensed or certified by the State and/or Governing Body?
What is the ratio of instructors to students in the classroom?
  • You might find a 30:1 ratio in the classroom.
  • Some schools won’t do more than 20:1 in the classroom.
  • The lower the ratio, the better for the students.
    - More time devoted to students.
    - More availability with the instructors.
    - Individual instruction is beneficial when needed.
What is the ratio of instructors to students on the Range/Yard?
  • You need to check this part out. You don’t want to be one of twenty or thirty students just standing around waiting for a turn in the truck. 
  • Some schools might think that a good ratio would be no more than three trucks per Instructor.
    - This would put you with one instructor per twelve students.
    - Smaller is better. You don’t want to be out on the range/yard splitting your time with too many other students trying to learn maneuvers at the same time.
What is the ratio of instructors to students in the trucks?
  • There must always be an instructor in the truck.
  • Some schools feel that there shouldn’t be more than four students in the truck with the instructor on the road.
  • Others believe that there should not be more than three students in the truck with an instructor on the road.
  • Just as with the other parts of your training, the smaller the group, the better.

It is an excellent indicator of the quality of training that you will receive from the school just based on the number of instructors to the number of students during the entire training program.

Talk to students in the program

Sometime during your school tour, speak with students that are now training. This may be very beneficial to you. Asking them questions, hearing about their experiences might give you a little extra information to base your decision on choosing a school. You will learn about the different types of Training Programs that the school has to offer from their representative.

Cost and payment options available 

  • Financial Aid
  • Grants
  • Cash, Check, Credit
  • Scholarships
  • VA Benefits
  • Tuition Reimbursement
  • Company Pay
Meet the Placement Department and/or personnel

Most schools have a Placement Department that works with you to find a good fit for you once you have graduated. Depending on what type of work you are looking for:

  • Local
  • Regional/Dedicated
  • Over-the-Road

There are so many opportunities for drivers. If the school you are looking at doesn’t have a placement department, they will surely have someone working on placement for their graduates. 

One of the main things to look at when choosing a school should be their placement rate. It should definitely be in the high 90 percent. There are so many jobs available, and the school has all the sources at their fingertips to be able to help their recent graduates get a job right out of school.

Additional Information needed:
U.S. Citizenship

  • You must be a U.S. citizen
  • Or non-U.S. citizen with a valid Permanent Resident Card
  • You must provide proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent residency
  • You must provide a 10-year driver history report. You will have to request this report from the department of motor vehicles in any state that has issued you a license in the past 10 years

Acceptable Proof of U.S. Citizenship:

  • Valid, unexpired U.S. passport or passport card
  • Original or certified copy of the birth certificate issued by a state, county, municipal authority, or outlying possession of the U.S. bearing an official seal.
  • Consular Report of Birth Abroad issued by the U.S. Department of State (FS-240, DS-1350, or FS-545)
  • Certificate of Naturalization (N-550, N-570, or N-578)
  • Certificate of U.S. Citizenship (N-560 or N-561) 
  • CDL-Help line

Your representative at the school can call the CDL-Help line to get information on your license and find out right then if you qualify for a CDL. Before you can obtain an original CDL, you must be eligible for the license based on your driving record.  Any of the following will disqualify you from obtaining a CDL:

  • Having a license from more than one state.
  • A current suspension, revocation, denial, or cancellation of your license.
  • Conviction of any six-point violation in the 24 months immediately preceding application.
  • Conviction for operating a motor vehicle while impaired in the 24 months immediately preceding application.
  • A suspension or revocation in the 36 months immediately preceding application. 
  • Suspensions for Failure to Appear in Court (FAC), Failure to Comply with a Judgment (FCJ), failure to appear for re-examination, financial responsibility, non-sufficient funds checks, and a suspension or revocation for a temporary medical condition do not disqualify an applicant for a CDL.

Criminal Background

You can get a CDL with a felony. In most instances, you can get a CDL with no restrictions. As long as you don’t have a suspended driver’s license or are prohibited by your parole terms.

You might be disqualified from earning a CDL at the federal level if a commercial vehicle was used in the commission of a felony. Also, manslaughter in the first or second degree with a motor vehicle, along with misconduct with a motor vehicle.

If you do have a felony conviction that is not related to a commercial vehicle, then you should be able to obtain your CDL without any issues. There are many trucking companies that will hire drivers with felonies.

Length and hours of classes

There are many classes available to you. There are a lot of programs that are very short. You should not look at taking any courses that are less than 160 hours. Many trucking companies will not take drivers from schools with less than a certain amount of hours, and 160, is it at this time. You need enough time in school to be able to comprehend, drive, and take your tests. Anything less than four or five weeks might not be enough. 

  • Availability - Full time/Part-time Classes

Most schools offer both full time and part-time classes to their students.

If you are unemployed and available for a full-time program running Monday through Friday, full time would be your best bet. You would be able to go through your classes in a timely fashion and get done.  

If you are working and unable to attend full time, then you would want the choice of going part-time. Part-time classes can be on weekends and/or evenings. Expect it to take you longer because of the number of hours a week; you will only be able to do on a part-time basis. This is a great way to be able to continue working while being trained for your new career. 

Classroom Training

The majority of the truck driving schools out there have classroom training involved. There are many things that need to be taught in the classroom, and your time there will be intense. Some schools allow you to start school without having a permit. If this is the case, you will be going over all the work to be able to obtain a permit. There are also many subjects to go over while in class, such as, but not limited to: 

  • Intro to Trucking
  • Logging
  • Safety
  • Hazards
  • Railroad-Highway Crossings
  • Driving Emergencies

What type of equipment

  • Manual
  • Automatic
  • You need to be aware that if you train on automatics, your CDL-A will specify that. You will not be able to drive for any company that has manual equipment with your CDL-A that defines automatic transmissions.

How many pieces of equipment per class size?

It does make a difference. If you have a small class of three or four, it’s one thing. However, you don’t want to be standing around with twenty other people waiting for your turn with a truck. 

Range Training 

  • Is there a good size range/yard for you to do your maneuvers?
  • Can the instructors see you from any angle?
  • Are there any obstacles in the way of preventing good visuals?
  • Enough room for all the students that are training per class?

BTW Time (Behind the wheel) 

  • How many students per truck?
  • How much time are you behind the wheel?
  • How much road time are you driving?

Testing availability

Are you able to reschedule if you do not pass your test? Does the school set up whatever you might need for retests, additional training, help with specific areas.

Expensive vs. Cheap

Costs and ways to pay:

  • Financial Aid
  • Pell Grants
  • Student Loans
  • Scholarship Programs
  • Contract Training
  • Tuition Reimbursement
  • Company Paid Programs
  • Government Funding
  • VA Funding
  • Grants
  • Cash, Check, or Charge
Stay away from “Free Training” Programs

Location: 

Where the school is located could be a significant reason for your decision:

  • Countrywide
  • Statewide
  • Classroom and Range at the same location

Sometimes location is a reason for picking a particular school. Even though you may be driving cross-country for your job, if the school is more than 15 minutes away you might not want to go that far. Check them all out, don’t just go with the school that is closest to where you live be the reason for picking your school.

If you choose to go to a school that is out of the State that you reside in, be sure to check out the State that you are planning on taking your training to see if your license is transferrable.  

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs…

The bottom line after you picked your school, and have done your training, and are ready to start your new career in the trucking industry, is, of course, a job!

Be sure to check out their:

  • Placement Record, it should be in the high 90 percent.
  • Recruiters coming to the school to speak to you about their company.
  • Materials ready available for job opportunities with carriers.
  • Placement Department/Personnel available to all students and graduates. 

Good Luck!

References 

  • 2019, Home, Commercial Vehicle Training Association, 44 Canal Center Plz Ste 120 Alexandria VA 22314-1592, 15 October 2019,  
  • “n” “d”, Gold Standard Certification for Truck Driver Training Programs, PTDI, 13791 E Rice Pl Suite 114 Aurora CO 80015, 09 October 2019,  
  • 2018, Home, National Association of Publicly Funded Truck Driving Schools, 555 Community College Drive Building B Houston TX 77013, 25 September 2019,
  • “n” “d”, CDL Eligibility and Documentation, 4525 Benning Road SE Washington DC 20019, 02 October 2019,
  • 2019, CDL Drivers: U.S. Citizenship or Legal Presence Documentation Required, Michigan.gov, 430 W Allegan Street Richard H. Austin Building 4th floor Lansing, MI 48918, 03 October 20019
Topics:Life on the Road

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